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Interview With Wesley Clark; Interview With Lugar, Graham

Aired November 30, 2003 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 11:00 a.m. in Crawford, Texas, 6:00 p.m. in Paris, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. From wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my exclusive interview with the Democratic presidential candidate, former NATO Supreme Commander, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, in just a moment. First, though, a quick check of the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Let's get more now on the bloodshed in Iraq. For coalition troops, November has been the cruelest month, and U.S. military officials expect the casualties to mount, as it says insurgents are focusing on so-called soft targets.

Our senior international correspondent, Walter Rodgers, is once again in Baghdad. He's joining us now live with the latest.

Walter, what's happening today?


Well, it's very clear, the Iraqi guerrillas, the insurgents are indeed shifting their targets, going after those so-called soft targets. That means civilians -- Iraqi civilians, as well as diplomats, and it has been a bloody weekend.

Still, two U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Armored Division along the border with Syria -- the Iraqi border with Syria were killed Saturday. The most recent fatalities, however, were the two South Korean contract workers here. Their car was shot up as they were traveling between Baghdad and Tikrit. Two others were wounded in that accident, one critically. Actually, it was a shoot-up, not an accident.

And then on Saturday, as well, two Japanese diplomats killed. They were also traveling to Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town. They were in a bulletproof car. They got out of the car to have lunch. That is when they were killed.

Most horrific, however, was the ambush, almost a massacre, of seven Spanish intelligence agents south of Baghdad Saturday afternoon. They were stalked by the Iraqi guerrillas who fired from another car, a rocket-propelled grenade and, also, small-arms fire. Seven Spaniards dead and one of those Spaniards also injured, and the reports from eyewitnesses say that it was Fedayeen.

Still, the United States remains upbeat.


BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, DEPUTY OPERATIONS DIRECTOR: We have said for the last couple of weeks that we see the enemy starting to attack soft targets, Iraqi targets, rather than military targets. We think this is a change on the part of the enemy. He realizes that attacking a military target will probably lead to his death or capture.


RODGERS: U.S. officials still claim the vast majority of Iraqi territory is safe. Still, the roads in this country are not very safe at night, and the airport is still a dodgy proposition -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Walter Rodgers in Baghdad, thanks very much.

As the Thanksgiving holiday weekend comes to an end here in the United States, many politicians are still buzzing about President Bush's secret visit to Baghdad.

Joining us now is the Democratic presidential contender, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark. He's joining us from Charleston, South Carolina.

General, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: This past weekend we saw more casualties. Seven Spanish intelligence officers killed, two Japanese diplomats killed. Is it time, as some of your other presidential rivals would suggest, for the United States simply to cut and run, to leave Iraq?

CLARK: Oh, of course it's not time to do that. We have to succeed there.

We shouldn't have gone there in the first place. It was an unnecessary war. The president owes us an explanation, owes all of the American people an explanation, for why we went there in the first place.

But we're there. And this is an opportunity to make a difference. We should do it. But we should do it the right way.

We need a success strategy in Iraq. We need to turn it back to the Iraqi people as rapidly as possible, put the military under NATO, build an international umbrella organization to replace the American occupation authority.

BLITZER: The Bush administration has a plan that's been signed off by the Iraqi provisional government by next June to turn it over to the Iraqis, have these caucuses, if you will, sort of like what's going to happen in Iowa, and turn it over to a transitional government in Iraq. That seems like a pretty rapid timetable.

CLARK: I think we could do it much more rapidly. I think what we should be doing is using the local elected councils now to indirectly select representatives to a central Iraqi government, not the provisional government. That's been discredited.

But an indirect election to put in place an Iraqi authority that even now could begin to take some initial responsibility for what's going on in Iraq.

The sooner we put this back in the hands of the Iraqi people, the better.

BLITZER: The chief ayatollah of the Shiite majority of Iraq, they say they -- he wants elections. He doesn't want caucuses. He doesn't want a transitional process. He wants real democracy. Would you support what the Shiite, Ayatollah El-Sistani, of Iraq is now proposing?

CLARK: Well, I think that to run a real election you have to really do your homework, and it is going to take some time to do that. And I think that you've got to have the kind of leadership on the ground that can do the back-room negotiations to produce a consensus to move toward that.

But I'd start with some kind of indirect election, indirect democracy first. We've got to get rid of the impression that this is an American occupation.

I understand why Sistani wants an election, because in an election, the Shia will be the majority. And it will be their country. But we've got to move there by degrees.

BLITZER: What if they elect democratically a fundamentalist, Islamic, ayatollah-led regime in Iraq?

CLARK: Well, I think what we'll want to do is do the best we can, in terms of setting up the conditions, in terms of the election, to ensure that it's representative.

But ultimately, Wolf, the United States won't have any control over that, whether it's this year or next year or the year after. If they want to elect a theocratic regime, they're going to elect a theocratic regime at some point, despite what Donald Rumsfeld has said.

BLITZER: Was President Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day a photo-op or some sort of stunt, or was it the right thing for the commander in chief to do?

CLARK: Oh, I think it was absolutely the right thing for the commander in chief to do. He should always be with the troops on major holidays. And all of our military leaders understand this. When I was the commander in chief of U.S. forces in Europe, we spent Thanksgiving every year in Bosnia or in Kosovo with the troops. That was the -- that's the duty of a commander.

But I'll tell you this, Wolf. A visit, a photo-op or whatever it was to Baghdad, does not make up for a failed strategy. And what our soldiers really need is not a one-hour or two-hour morale boost, visit from the president. They need a strategy for success. That's what this administration hasn't given them.

BLITZER: You have a new ad that's running. I'm going to play an excerpt for our viewers in the United States and around the world. Listen to this.


ANNOUNCER: The first bullet shattered his hand. The second and third hit his shoulder and leg. As he hit the jungle floor, he rallied the troops and directed the firefight. He remained with his unit until the battle was over.

Now when we need a leader to clean up the mess in Iraq, he's the one who has done it.


BLITZER: Are you suggesting your other Democratic rivals are not the leader, the type of leader that the country needs right now, in your words, to clean up the mess in Iraq?

CLARK: Wolf, I think the day has passed when the Democratic Party can run as a domestic-policy-issues-only party. You have to be able to handle foreign policy and international security in an election. And I'm the only one who's got hands-on practical experience in doing it.

I helped negotiate the peace agreement in Bosnia with Richard Holbrooke and our delegation there. And I also led the forces of NATO during the operation in Kosovo. We saved 1.5 million Albanians. And today, Slobodan Milosevic is in the Hague standing trial for war crimes. We've got him. And he's there. And he was thrown out. And we didn't lose a single American life in combat in that mission.

So I think that you do need people with experience, and I do have that experience.

BLITZER: So are you suggesting that Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, arguably the frontrunner right now for the Democratic nomination, doesn't have those leadership skills?

CLARK: Well, I think that's really up to the electorate to decide.

But I do know this, that if you look at where the ads are and where the Republican Party is approaching this, the most recent ad, the one that says that our president is attacking terrorists and the opponents are attacking him because he's attacking terrorists, I mean, imagine that ad. We can see the direction that this campaign is going right now.

They're going to try to take patriotism away from the Democratic Party. They're going to try to take national security away from the Democratic Party.

I can stand toe to toe with George W. Bush. I've been there. I've done it. I've worn the uniform for real. I have been a commander in war. Nobody else has.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting that Howard Dean is not qualified to be president of the United States?

CLARK: I'm suggesting that all the voters in this country, Democrats, Independents, moderate Republicans, if you're looking for an alternative, you better understand what this election is going to be about. This is going to be a foreign-policy election. It's going to be a referendum on the war on terror.

And, Wolf, I think the country has to understand, we're not winning the war on terror. We are not winning the war on terror. This administration took us into Iraq. It's a world-class bait and switch.

BLITZER: All right.

CLARK: We are not winning the war on terror.

BLITZER: Let me just press you one more time, because I still am not hearing your response to the question. Is Howard Dean qualified to serve as the commander in chief?

CLARK: Wolf, I'm not going to attack a fellow Democrat.

BLITZER: You don't have to attack him. You can just say yes if you want.

CLARK: My objective is to attack George W. Bush. And I think the Democratic voters in this country and the Independents and everybody who is concerned about change in Washington needs to look at the differences in the candidates and make their own decisions. I think it's as clear as the nose on your face.

BLITZER: But it's a simple...

CLARK: There's a difference between candidates.

BLITZER: If he's qualified, you can simply say yes. By refusing to say yes, there's a thunderous "no" that I'm hearing.

CLARK: You're not hearing any "no," Wolf. What you're hearing is, if the country wants a lawyer to lead it, elect a lawyer. If you want a doctor, elect a doctor. If you want a leader, somebody who has been in the trenches and somebody who's been at the top in diplomacy and in war, elect a leader. I'm that leader. BLITZER: Is the United States better off right now with Saddam Hussein's regime finished and Saddam Hussein on the run struggling to survive?

CLARK: Well, you know, all things being equal, yes, we would be better off. But I think you have to put it in the full context of where we are.

We've taken a two-year diversion from full, wholehearted pursuit of the war on terror. Osama bin Laden is still sitting in the mountains of western Pakistan. He's got a sanctuary there. He's conducting operations. The fact that we can't intercept communications doesn't mean he's not communicating and directing things.

And Afghanistan is struggling. We probably need to put more forces in and put a renewed effort in Afghanistan.

We've got half of the United States Army physically on the ground in the Persian Gulf dealing with the situation in Iraq, which is a distraction from the war on terror.

So I think it's hard to say that we're better off in the war on terror than we were with Saddam Hussein gone. And therefore, I think it's good for the Iraqi people that Saddam Hussein is out, provided we can actually take him out and eliminate him. But as for us, are we safer with Saddam Hussein gone, I think that's a very tough case to make.

BLITZER: Going into the war, General Clark, you were convinced that the Iraqis did have weapons of mass destruction.

CLARK: Yes, I did believe that. I read the intelligence. It was -- obviously it was fragmentary intelligence.

I heard the secretary of defense tell me he knew where 30 percent of their weapons of mass destruction were. He told that to the so- called commentators, what Dick Cheney called the armchair generals. We had lunch with Don Rumsfeld, it must have been December or maybe January, and he explained at that point that he knew where 30 percent of the WMD was. So I took him at his word.

I mean, obviously there was some stretch on the intelligence. But Wolf, here's the point. I never believed that the WMD was a significant threat that necessitated an immediate response by the United States. There was no reason to have gone to war when we did.

I believe we should have taken the problem to the United Nations, let the United Nations work to resolve it.

BLITZER: If you would have taken it...

CLARK: Obviously, the evidence shows the inspections were effective.

BLITZER: But if you would have taken it to the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council being as deeply divided as it was, Saddam Hussein would still be in business right now and probably in business until the day he died of natural causes.

CLARK: Well, that's not altogether clear. But what is clear is that you could have put together an intrusive inspection regime. You could have had U.S. forces leveraging that inspection regime. You could have brought our allies on board.

You could have saved $150 -- well, maybe not $150 billion U.S., but you might have saved $125 billion U.S., and you could have focused your attention on Osama bin Laden and the war on terror. And you've got to balance those things off and say, what's it really worth to have taken the Saddam government out?

BLITZER: General Clark...

CLARK: And I think when you weigh this off, you find that this has been a real distraction from the war on terror. And I think it's very difficult to make a solid case and say, we're better off, we, the American people, are better off with Saddam gone, considering the price we paid.

BLITZER: All right. General Clark, stand by, because we have to take a quick commercial break.

Much more of my interview with General Clark, that's coming up. Among other things, I'll ask him about his run for the presidency and what he really thinks about some of his other presidential rivals.

Then, President Bush provides a personal shock and awe moment, secretly traveling to Baghdad to greet U.S. troops. We'll get some reaction from two key members of the United States Senate.

And later, our expert panel weighs in on the race for the White House. From a crowded field of Democrats to a popular president, what to expect in the 2004 campaign.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation with retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander now running for the president of the United States.

General Clark, in your book "Winning Modern Wars," you write, among other things, you write this:

"As I went back through the Pentagon, November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed in part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan."

Do you believe there is such a grand strategy on the part of the Bush administration to go after these countries?

CLARK: Wolf, I don't know what to make of that. I told the officer, when I started to tell me that, I said, "Stop, I don't want to get into anything that's classified. Just don't tell me that information."

But I do know this, that in the gossip circles in Washington, among the neo-conservative press, and in some of the statements that Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Wolfowitz have made, there is an inclination to extend this into Syria and maybe Lebanon. So you never know where this is headed.

The administration's never disavowed this intent. And one of the real problems we've got in Iraq is that there's a dynamic in the region that this administration has created, in which countries in the region feel threatened by the United States, directly threatened by the presence of those troops in Iraq. And it's been one of the factors that's made it harder for us to bring peace into Iraq.

BLITZER: If it was classified information, secret information, why put that in the book?

CLARK: Well, it wasn't classified when he said it. That's where I stopped it, right there. I said, I'm not getting into this. I don't want to know anything more about it.

But, Wolf, it was an insight, to me, into the kinds of policy discussions that were going on. And it was a chilling insight. Because when I heard that discussed and reinforced the situation on Iraq, I realized that this was an administration which was still focused on the idea of going after states, going after states instead of terrorists; going after states with conventional military power instead of using the combined agencies of the law enforcement and intelligence to go after terrorists; and going after states in a way that will leave the United States bogged down in trying to recreate state structures...

BLITZER: You sound...

CLARK: ... instead of going after the terrorists that are threatening us.

BLITZER: General, you make it sound as if states don't finance, support, work with terrorist organizations.

CLARK: Well, you know what happened is that, at the end of the Cold War, a lot of these states stopped doing that or stopped doing a lot of it.

There's one state that does do it, and that is Iran. And we knew that. And that's why many of us were surprised when the Bush administration wanted to make such a big push against Iraq, when any reasonable adding-up of the threat would have said, well, if you want to go against a state, go after Iran.

But Osama bin Laden... BLITZER: Well, let me...

CLARK: ... really is not a state-sponsored terrorist.

BLITZER: Well, what about...

CLARK: He's drawn money from inside states, but he hasn't been sponsored by a state, unless you count Afghanistan.

BLITZER: You say Iran supports terrorist organizations. What about Syria?

CLARK: Syria has also supported terrorist organizations in a more limited sense. They're supporting the terrorist organizations that are conducting the campaign against Israel itself.

But with the end of the Cold War, this whole nexus of states that the Bush administration seems to want to target has been scrambling to get out from under the American hammer. And they're trying to reorient themselves.

And what we've done is we've created a dynamic in which it seems that, because we've got a great armed forces and we know we can take out states, we want to go after states.

Going after terrorists is a lot tougher. They're shadowy organizations. You're going after individuals. You've got to go after financing. You've got to deal with our allies, our former allies, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

BLITZER: Let me...

CLARK: This is much more difficult. And I think the administration wanted to do something that was easy. They went after Saddam Hussein. And as a result, we're in a mess in Iraq, Wolf.

BLITZER: Should the Israeli government continue building its security barrier that protrudes into the West Bank?

CLARK: Well, I think the process of constructing a fence was essentially a constructive process from the diplomatic sense.

Now, when you get into the details of where it is and the hardship it's liable to impose on the Palestinian people, then you can begin to discuss and argue about the specific route.

But I think it's very clear that you can't have peace in the Middle East until Israel has a sense of security. Israel was driven to put up that fence, or to start working on that fence, by continuous suicide bombings coming from the West Bank. So I think you have to respect the Israeli motivations in doing that.

I think what we need is American leadership...

BLITZER: Well...

CLARK: ... to work to resolve...

BLITZER: Well, on the issue of the fence...

CLARK: ... those issues now.

BLITZER: ... would you withhold loan guarantees for Israel for the construction of the fence, as well as settlements on the West Bank, as this administration is doing?

CLARK: Well, as you say, the administration is already doing this. I think before I would do that...

BLITZER: What would you do? What would you do if you were president?

CLARK: ... I'd put a top leader into the Middle East with instructions to get out there and work with both sides and restart the negotiations.

You know, President Bush said when he went over there he met the leaders in the region. He said he was going to ride herd on them. But instead, he has basically ridden home to the ranch in Texas. He hasn't been engaged in the Middle East.

And he needs to put a top-level negotiator...

BLITZER: Who would you put in? Who would you name?

CLARK: Oh, I'd put someone very, very senior in there. And, you know, you're talking about...

BLITZER: Give us a name.

CLARK: ... someone of the level of Colin Powell to go in there and really make this his issue and work it and stay with it continuously until it's done.

BLITZER: But you don't believe...

CLARK: Richard Holbrooke and I and our team did that.

BLITZER: ... Colin Powell has tried to do that?

CLARK: I don't think he's doing it. You can't do it by being in Washington. You have to be in the region, dealing with people. And you cannot do it from a distance.

BLITZER: On the issue of gay marriage, I know you refuse to say whether or not you would support gay marriage.

CLARK: I'm not going to call it marriage, because marriage is a term that has something from the church. It has to do with state law and other things.

But here's what's very clear to me, Wolf, that you must have equal rights in this country. And if people want to form civil unions that have the rights of joint domicile and the rights of survivorship, that must be permitted under law.

We cannot discriminate against people in America on the basis of sexual orientation. It's simply wrong.

BLITZER: What about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy involving gays in the military? Should gays be allowed to serve openly as homosexuals in the United States military?

CLARK: Well, I think the United States armed forces has got to look at this issue, because the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is not working.

Frankly, I don't believe the United States armed forces should be the last institution in America to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation.

There are a number of foreign militaries who have faced this problem; they've faced it directly and they've answered the questions, like the British military. And there's been no fall off in their military proficiency.

So I think the United States armed forces leadership needs to really address this issue.

BLITZER: But you've served, what, 34 years in the U.S. Army...

CLARK: I did.

BLITZER: ... so you know the U.S. Army. Is the Army ready for openly gay men and women to serve in the Army?

CLARK: I think the United States Army is ready for effective leadership. And I think the attitudes on the gays in the military issues has continuously changed.

But, Wolf, I also think this: that this is a policy and this is a preference that needs to come from the uniformed military themselves. They need to recognize where they are in American society. We want an Army and an armed forces that represents our country, not that discriminates against people.

So when I'm president, I'll ask the leaders of the armed forces to look at this policy first, to evaluate "don't ask, don't tell" and to come back in with something better. And together, we'll work out the right policy for the armed forces.

BLITZER: When I recently interviewed Howard Dean, he said he was still considering you, as one of his formidable candidates, to serve as his running mate. Would you agree to serve as Howard Dean's running mate?

CLARK: No, I don't see that in the cards. I think the issue for this election is who should be the commander in chief and who is the right person to face George W. Bush. And that's what the Democratic electorate has to decide on. I like Howard Dean. I think he's done a fine job. I like his spirit. But, you know, Wolf, the days are passed when the Democratic Party can nominate a candidate in a time of war to go against a sitting president who is the commander in chief, who can say he's been there and done it.

You can't put someone against the commander in chief and win who hasn't been there and done it, in terms of foreign affairs. So for me, it's about being the commander in chief, and that's why I'm running.

BLITZER: Would you consider Howard Dean for your running mate?

CLARK: Certainly, I would consider Howard Dean for my running mate.

BLITZER: Would he be qualified to step in, God forbid, if you were the president and something happened to you?

CLARK: Well, as I said, I would consider Howard Dean for my running mate. But I wouldn't -- I'm not going to pick someone who is not qualified to be president of the United States.

BLITZER: Who else would you consider?

CLARK: But I'm talking about winning an election here.

BLITZER: Who else would you consider?

CLARK: Well, I'll consider a number of people. There are a number of great people.

But, Wolf, right now, I'm in the business of trying to communicate the ideas to the American people on what are the issues in this race.

And I think the Democratic Party is at an historic juncture here. We've always been the party that has responded to ordinary people. We've been concerned with issues like education and health care and making sure civil rights were meaningful. We're the party of affirmative action. And all that's still very, very important for this country.

It's necessary, but it's not sufficient. Now we've got to worry about American security, and we've got to have a candidate who can keep this country safe and secure and still believes and supports and upholds Democratic values.

BLITZER: General...

CLARK: And that's why I'm in this race.

BLITZER: General Clark, one final question, because we're almost out of time. A personal question. You've spoken about your father who died when you were, what, four years old. He was Jewish.


BLITZER: But you only learned about that much later in your life. Recount for our viewers in the United States and around the world the Jewish heritage of your background.

CLARK: Well, my grandparents came from Minsk. And their name was Nimorovsky (ph). And they left sometime in the mid 1890s. They moved to Chicago.

My father brought his fiance, Ida, and her younger sister. My father came with his younger brother, and they married the sisters in Chicago. My grandfather went into the hardware -- the dry goods business, and they had a chain of dry goods stores there around the turn of the century and a little after in Chicago.

My father was the oldest son. He was a lawyer. And he went into Democratic Party politics. And that's what he loved. He loved politics, pinochle, and horses, my mother used to say, plus his family.

But he died when I was four. And I just -- my mother wasn't Jewish. And so apparently my father died with $424 in the bank account. My mother had to get a job and go back to work. And Chicago didn't work out. She moved back to her home in Arkansas and moved in with her parents.

And that's how I was brought up, and just didn't know anything about my Jewish heritage.

BLITZER: Until when?

CLARK: Until 1968. I had two sets of cousins who were on an around-the-world trip. They'd both gone through Israel. And by that time, I was married, and I was a captain in the United States Army. And I was thrilled to learn the story of my family. I'm very proud of them.

I think, when people go from their own -- from an old world into a new world and throw everything aside and start over, I think it's a wonderful thing.

BLITZER: But you're a practicing Christian?

CLARK: I am. Yes, I am.

BLITZER: General Clark, good of you to spend some time with us. Welcome back to CNN.

CLARK: Thank you very much, Wolf. It's good to be with you.

BLITZER: No stranger to our viewers, given the fact that you were our CNN military analyst for so long.

CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it. CLARK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll go to Kelly Wallace for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

And later, the U.S. commander in chief becomes the chef in chief, serving up a hot meal to U.S. troops in Baghdad. We'll ask members of two previous presidential administrations, Henry Kissinger and William Cohen, if that was the right recipe to boost morale.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere.


Thanks for inviting me to dinner.


BLITZER: President Bush in Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day, greeting some of the U.S. troops stationed there.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Although the president's visit was a welcome surprise to the U.S. military, the bloody fighting continues, and the death toll numbers rise every week.

Joining us now to discuss the situation in Iraq, the war on terror and much more, two special guests. Here in Washington, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana. And in our Miami bureau, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Bob Graham of Florida.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

And let me begin with you, Senator Lugar. The president's trip to Baghdad -- let me read to you what The Washington Post wrote in an editorial yesterday.

"The nature of the president's trip inadvertently revealed a great deal about the true state of affairs in Iraq. The fact that the president of the United States had to travel in an unmarked car to a secret flight, land and depart in darkness, and was unable to tell even members of his family that he planned to visit Baghdad hardly speaks well for the security situation."

What do you make of that assessment?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Well, I make it that Iraq is very unsafe, very insecure.

I think the editorial went on to point out that, in addition to that, the political situation is very insecure. That with the Ayatollah Ali Sistani suggesting -- in fact, with a fatwah, demanding -- that there be direct elections of the people involved in a constituent assembly.

There are two problems on the security side. Clearly, that has to be solved for anybody to proceed. But even if we solve the security situation, we have now an acceleration, clearly, of the political situation. And I think a great deal of expertise is going to be required on our part to sift through how the Shiite majority, how the Muslim religion is reflected, and still a democracy that looks something like what our objectives might be, comes out of this.

BLITZER: It sounds like a pretty complicated situation. And let me get Senator Graham to weigh in on the situation.

Is the situation in Iraq -- and you follow it closely, Senator Graham -- from the U.S. perspective, getting better or worse?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: Well, first, I commend the president for going to Iraq. It's in the great tradition of American commanders in chief visiting with the troops.

The situation in Iraq, in my opinion, is not going well. We are not securing the area for our own troops or for the international coalition that is there. Without that security, we can't move forward in terms of rebuilding Iraq.

And while all that is going on, as General Clark said in the first segment, we've been distracted from the real war on terror, which is taking place in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan and Syria, where serious terrorists -- not states, but rather, individual groups -- are running at free will and gaining substantial new strength.

BLITZER: All right...

GRAHAM: Witness the recent string of terrorist attacks.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Lugar weigh in on that.

The administration says they can do it all -- fight the war on terror and resolve the situation in Iraq. Do you agree with Senator Graham that they're neglecting the real war, the war on terror?

LUGAR: No, I think the war on terror is going very strongly -- as is happening here in the United States, as we organize homeland defense -- is going much better with regard to interdicting funds for terrorists around the world. It's likewise going better country by country, if we come together with various other governments.

Though I appreciate the thought that somehow or other, as General Clark said, Iraq was a mistake, a distraction, I don't agree. I think in Iraq, there is a war against terror going on, but so is there elsewhere. And both are proceeding simultaneously, and usually with different sorts of personnel.

The problem in Iraq is that the soldiers sent over to win the war are not necessarily the appropriate personnel to win the peace, to do the intelligence work, the nitty-gritty work now in counterinsurgency. And that is what is required in the war against terror.

BLITZER: Well, let me let Senator Graham weigh in.

Why do you so strongly disagree with Senator Lugar? You opposed the war precisely because you thought it would divert U.S. attention from the war on terror.

GRAHAM: And clearly it has. Beginning in the spring of 2002, important military units, including those that were most appropriate for fighting the war against Osama bin Laden, were relocated out of Afghanistan to begin the war on Iraq, as were intelligence assets.

The al Qaeda, which was on the map in the spring of 2002, has been allowed to regenerate, and has regenerated in a much more dangerous form. Instead of having one vertically integrated operation, we now have multiple cells around the world, which al Qaeda is supporting, but which have greater flexibility and ability to carry out terrorist attacks virtually anywhere they wish to do.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Graham, stand by, Senator Lugar. We're going to take a quick break. We're only getting started here.

We'll continue our discussion with Senators Lugar and Graham. Plus, they'll be taking your phone calls. This is a good time for you to call us from around the world.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are welcome here in Baghdad to him, because he give us our liberty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't mean anything to me because he didn't came to see the Iraqis.


BLITZER: Two different points of view on the president's quick trip to Baghdad last Thursday.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're continuing our discussion with two influential senators: Richard Lugar, he's the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Bob Graham, he's the former chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

Senator Lugar, we see these casualties mounting, not only U.S., British casualties, but from allies, now Spain, Japan, South Korean diplomats. It looks like the insurgents seem to be targeting not only the U.S., but its friends, country by country. Is that what's is going on?

LUGAR: Yes, I believe so, I think, starting with the U.N., the Red Cross, the NGOs, now country by country.

Now, the argument is often made with the Bush administration, why don't you bring in NATO? Why don't you bring in all sorts of countries? Good idea, except the insurgents sort of understand that idea, too, and as rapidly as someone gets up to try to help us, they're knocked down.

We really have to have the types of individuals there on the ground in Iraq that are good in counterinsurgency -- much better in intelligence, much better in shooting the insurgents. Otherwise we could find ourselves by ourselves out there.

BLITZER: Does the U.S. military, the intelligence community, simply not have those kind of people right now available, Senator Lugar?

LUGAR: Well, I'm hopeful they do have them available, and I'm hopeful that the president decides to send as many as necessary now that is really required. This is not a time to temporize.

And I think the president's trip to see the troops and the statement he made indicated he wants to win the war. He will need to act upon that to get the people there that we need right now.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, these latest attacks, going after U.S. allies cooperating with the United States in Iraq, seem to suggest a higher proficiency, a greater technical capability on the part of the insurgents.

GRAHAM: I agree. And I think one thing the president should be guarded about is using words like "thugs" or "assassins," which sound as if there's one or a small group of individuals operating alone. I believe what we've seen in the last several months is an increasing structure to the attack against the United States and its allies.

And I couldn't agree more with something that Senator Lugar has been saying, is that we need to get more troops into Iraq, particularly those that have the competencies that are required to deal with the sort of insurgents that we're now facing.

If we don't do that, we aren't going to secure Iraq. And if we don't secure Iraq, then we'll never have a plan which we can leave honorably, having accomplished our objectives.

BLITZER: Speaking of thugs and assassins, let's listen, Senator Graham, precisely to what the president said when he was meeting the troops on Thanksgiving day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.



BLITZER: Are you suggesting, Senator Graham, they're not a band of thugs and assassins, these insurgents?

GRAHAM: No, remember early on the military leaders in Iraq were virtually prohibited from using the word "guerrilla" because it sounded as if there was more than just a series of individual actions, that there was some degree of coordination.

Clearly, that's what we're facing, and we need to face the reality of our adversary and respond appropriately. I don't think by misdefining who the adversary is, as if it was just a thug or an individual assassin, conveys the kind of structure that our opposition has and what we have to do to counter that structure.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Lugar, briefly, do you agree with Senator Graham?

LUGAR: Yes, I do. I would tie it further to the second part of the equation, that is the political situation. I would think a number of these insurgents are Sunnis, and I think they're worried that they're going to lose out if democracy comes, that Shiites with 60 percent of the votes will put them in a bad place. Likewise, the Kurds have anxiety.

So you have both of these factors going: Ayatollah Sistani winning elections in which the Shiites prevail; Sunnis wanting to get the Americans and everybody else out of there so that they are not done in by the democracy movement that we are engendering.

BLITZER: All right, senators, please stand by once again. We're going to take another quick break.

Coming up next, more phone calls -- in fact, the first phone calls for Senator Lugar and Graham.

We'll also reveal our sound bite of the week.

Don't forget to weigh in on our Web question: Should President Bush have told his parents he wasn't going to be there for Thanksgiving dinner in Crawford, Texas? Instead, he went to Baghdad, as we all know. We'll share the results in the next hour.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." More of our conversation with Senators Richard Lugar and Bob Graham, that's coming up. But first, let's get a quick check of the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Turning back to our top story, the bloodshed continuing in Iraq on this day. One hundred coalition troops have been killed during the month of November alone. Despite the continuing attacks, coalition leaders declare they will not back down.

Our senior international correspondent, Walter Rodgers, once again joining us live from Baghdad with more details.


RODGERS: Hello, Wolf.

Backing down may not be an option. The question may be, was this a wise venture in the first place?

Over the weekend, 15 more people killed in Iraq, and those were soldiers, civilians and diplomats. It was an extraordinarily bloody weekend. The U.S. Army says that the guerrillas are now shifting their targets to so-called "soft targets."

Still, two U.S. soldiers were killed along the Syrian border with Iraq yesterday. They were from the 3rd Armored Division.

The most recent fatalities, however, are the South Koreans, who were traveling to Tikrit. Gunmen pulled up on their car, began opening fire. Two South Koreans were killed, as I say, and another one was critically injured.

Then, Saturday, two Japanese diplomats in that same area, around Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town, traveling in a bulletproof car, but they got out of the car to have lunch. Again, gunmen cut them down.

Worst of all, perhaps, the seven Spanish intelligence agents. They were about 30 miles south of Baghdad Saturday afternoon. It was dusk. They did not know it. They were being stalked by what eyewitnesses said were Fedayeen, Saddam Hussein loyalists. They approached the two cars in the Spanish convoy, opened up with rocket- propelled grenades. There was an ambush very clearly planned. What resulted, of course, was a massacre. Seven Spanish agents killed, even though they tried to fight off the Fedayeen for half an hour before it was all over.

Still, a ranking U.S. general says things are improving here.


BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT: It is our assessment, at this point, that the vast majority of the country of Iraq is in fact safe, that you have these incidents throughout the country that would try to give the impression that this country is unsafe. But I think the facts on the ground would demonstrate otherwise.


RODGERS: The difficulty, of course, is that it is the guerrillas, not the United States, which is defining the battlefield in Iraq. That battlefield is constantly shifting. Witness the fatalities and shootings over the weekend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Walter Rodgers in Baghdad for us.

Walter, thank you very much.

Let's continue now our discussion. Senator Richard Lugar is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's joining us here in Washington. Senator Bob Graham, the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He's in our Miami bureau.

Senator Lugar, Hilary Rodham Clinton, your colleague from New York, was in Baghdad on Friday, the day after the president was there. She, like we heard presidential candidate General Wesley Clark on this program earlier, calling for a greater international role in Iraq.

Listen to what she said on Friday.


SEN. HILARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I'm a big believer that we ought to internationalize this. I don't think it's too late, but I think it takes a change in policy and attitude from our administration, which doesn't seem to be forthcoming.

I think we should be internationalizing many of the functions that we are trying to perform here.


BLITZER: Senator Lugar, you agree with Senator Clinton?

LUGAR: No, I think this has been the conventional wisdom of doubters, with regard to the whole business.

Our problem right now is one that we're going to have to try to solve -- that is, U.S. security forces defeating the insurgents, and secondly, the provisional coalition government, however we finally constitute it, making a difference in terms of the structure of the government.

Right now, the insurgents are driving out all the international people. It's all well and good to talk about internationalizing it, but the fact is that the security situation moves in precisely the opposite direct.

People will come back when the place is secure. And we ought to have people back. They will join us. The U.N. will be operative at that point.

BLITZER: Let's take a caller from New Jersey.

New Jersey, go ahead with your question.

CALLER: I think we are losing track of history and a lesson taught us by Vietnam, that a butter-and-guns economy doesn't work. We're wasting money in Iraq, and domestic programs are going begging. And you could even look at the terrorism problem as part of a domestic program that needs attention. You need help in the cities. You need help for Social Security and for Medicare and drug benefits for our seniors.

BLITZER: All right, what about that, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Well, you could say the options are guns or butter. In fact, we found a third option, and that is, ask the grandchildren to pay. We are running some of the biggest budget deficits. And it's not just military. It's not just anti-terrorism. It's across the board. With the sense that, as long as it doesn't affect us, let's let the grandkids pay.

I think that is an atrocious policy. I think it's an immoral policy, and we have a responsibility to do with this war as we did with the Civil War, with the First World War, with the Second World War. And that is, the generation who's fighting the war should be the generation paying for the war, not asking future generations to do so.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, you want to respond to that?

LUGAR: Of course. The president initiated the Leave No Child Behind to help education. The Medicare, prescription drugs for the elderly, I just voted, along with a small majority of the Senate, to do.

These were very important initiatives on the home front. A tax cut to bring about recovery of our economy, which now is growing at an 8 percent growth rate. I think these are very strong reasons.

BLITZER: But the point that they're making is that it's being paid for with so-called deficit spending, just increasing the national debt.

LUGAR: Of course it's deficit, because we've had a recession. And as we have growth, we have more money coming into the federal government. That is the only way that I know of to turn that around. Simply cutting expenditures, cutting education, cutting out the elderly is not a very good way to progress domestically and, in my judgment, won't even cure the deficit situation.

BLITZER: All right, let me just wrap up, Senator Graham, get your thoughts on what's going on with the Israelis and the Palestinians right now.

The Bush administration cutting the loan guarantees for Israel by a specific amount, nearly $300 million, that the Israelis are spending right now on settlements in the West Bank, as well as building the so- called security barrier, this fence that protrudes into the West Bank. Is that a good policy?

GRAHAM: Well, I agree with several things that General Clark said.

One, building the fence itself was not a bad idea. It probably contributed to the security and the ability to negotiate a peace between Israel and Palestine.

The specific route of the fence needs to be cognizant of what is going to happen in that negotiation and what kind of separation will eventually exist.

And finally, I think we do need to have a strong U.S. presence on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian areas in order to see that the president's strong statements of continuing U.S. involvement are realized. He suggested someone like Colin Powell. I'd suggest someone like Jimmy Carter and the president's father as being illustrative of the high-level engagement which the United States needs to be effective.

BLITZER: Are you at all hopeful that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Senator Lugar, can get back on track?

LUGAR: Yes, I'm hopeful. I think it ought to. I would agree with Bob Graham that we ought to have high-level and hands-on administration there, but I think the building of the fence and the wall ought to stop. Clearly, that has got to be a part of the situation, as well as active -- the settlements have got to end. The violence has got to end.

Now that requires some presence. Maybe us, maybe NATO, maybe Arab countries. But something beyond simply administration from afar, diplomacy at a distance.

BLITZER: Two experienced and thoughtful members of the United States Senate.

Senator Lugar, thanks very much for joining us.

LUGAR: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, always a pleasure to have you on the program as well.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, here on "LATE EDITION": This month the deadliest so far for U.S. troops since the war began. That includes March and April, when major combat was under way.

Has the mission really been accomplished in Iraq? We'll ask two top statesmen: the former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, and the former defense secretary William Cohen.

And later, Democratic presidential candidates claim they can take the White House next year, but are they just talking turkey? "LATE EDITION" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

An ordinary Thanksgiving holiday turns into a cloak-and-dagger trip to Baghdad for the president.

Joining us now, two distinguished guests very familiar with secret missions in their own right. From Kent, Connecticut, Dr. Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state to both Presidents Nixon and Ford. And here in Washington, the former Clinton defense secretary, the U.S. Senator William Cohen.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Dr. Kissinger, was it a good idea for the president to go to Baghdad under these circumstances?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It was a very good idea. It was, of course, good for the morale of the troops, but it also showed the American commitment to prevail in Iraq.

And that commitment had to be reinforced in order to get the people that we need to work with us convinced that they're not risking their lives in vain.

BLITZER: What do you think, Secretary Cohen?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I agree completely. This was an important message to send because there had been some contradictory signals coming out of Washington: number one, that we were there for the long term, but, number two, we were looking forward to reducing the size of our commitment by next June.

I think those conflicting messages were sending the wrong kind of signal. And so, the president's trip, as Dr. Kissinger pointed out, was very important to reinforce the point that we are there for success, not failure.

BLITZER: When he addressed those 600 U.S. soldiers at the Baghdad International Airport, among other things, gentlemen, he said this. Listen to this.


BUSH: I have a message for the Iraqi people. You have an opportunity to seize the moment and rebuild your great country based on human dignity and freedom. The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone forever.


BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, with the exception of two or three or four Iraqi officials who were there, part of the coalition, he didn't really meet with any Iraqi people while he was in Iraq for 2 1/2 hours. What does that say? What does that underline about the U.S. involvement right now?

KISSINGER: Well, there was no -- there couldn't be an opportunity in a three-hour period to meet a great many Iraqi people. The fact that the president took a trip to Baghdad on Thanksgiving and the words he said, as conveyed to the Iraqi people, will indicate the degree of American commitment.

By itself, of course, a single trip cannot solve the problem.

One of the most important of which is that one cannot really speak of an Iraqi people as one people. They are the Kurds, they are the Shiites, they are the Sunnis, they are many tribes. And one of our problems is to create some sort of cohesion among these divergent groups who have up to now been governed by a brutal and ruthless dictatorship.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, I want you to hold that thought because I want to bring back Secretary Cohen.

On that specific point, the agreement that apparently had been in the works to start handing over real power to the Iraqis beginning next June seems to be falling apart because the Shiite leader, the Ayatollah Ali Sistani, says he wants elections right away because the Shiites presumably, 60 percent of the population, will elect what he hopes is a fundamentalist, Islamic Ayatollah-led government.

COHEN: Well, when you have a game plan and the circumstances change, you don't change the game itself which is a very deadly and serious one here, you have to change the game plan. They're calling audibles, as such, as we go along to say, "What do we need to do to make this work, taking into account the Ayatollah Ali Sistani and others?"

So what they're doing now is trying to modify the original plan to see how it can fit with the circumstances on the ground to make sure that the ultimate goal, of building that force structure and democratic institutions, has a chance for success.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, is the U.S. plan falling apart in the face of the criticism from the Ayatollah?

KISSINGER: One cannot talk of one American plan. As I understand what the administration was saying, with which I strongly agree, it said we are going to turn over authority to an Iraqi government just as quickly as we can form one.

That government will have the responsibility of creating a constitution which takes into account the various ethnic groups that exist there. And if any one group wants to achieve absolute power for itself, that will lead to civil war and strife of the kind that, in the past, has produced dictatorships in Iraq.

So we have two separate problems. The first is to create some authority, which can come out of various caucuses. That authority then has to govern and create a constitution.

But we can delegate or devolve a considerable amount of authority to them. And at that point, once a government exists, the problem of getting it accepted by other nations will also be a primary task. We have absolutely...

BLITZER: We have a caller. Secretary, we have a caller.

KISSINGER: We have absolutely no choice except to prevail there.

BLITZER: Secretary, we have a caller in Michigan who has a question.

Michigan, go ahead.

CALLER: Hasn't history taught us that there are almost no military solutions to guerrilla scenarios? I mean, from Vietnam, Afghanistan, with the Soviets, even in World War II?

BLITZER: Well, let's ask Secretary Cohen.

COHEN: Well, the key to success here is to gather the support of the Iraqi people, and we are on the horns of a dilemma. We cannot gather the support of the Iraqi people as long as they fear that we're not going to be there for the long haul. In other words, if they raise their heads in support of the United States, they run the risk of being assassinated or suffer attacks.

And so we cannot win their support unless we show we're going to be strong. We cannot win that support by sending conflicting signals.

So I think the key to success, security, bringing on board the support of the Iraqi people, letting them understand and making them understand that their future liberties are at stake here, and they need to join these forces with the United States.

BLITZER: Secretary Kissinger, despite the nearly daily death toll not only involving U.S. troops but friendly forces -- the Spaniards, the Japanese diplomats, South Korean diplomats, Jordan early on, the U.N., the International Red Cross -- we still keep getting almost a steady drumbeat of relatively optimistic statements from the U.S. military personnel on the ground, the commanding officers.

Listen, for example, to what General Ricardo Sanchez said only this past week. Listen to this:


GENERAL RICARDO SANCHEZ: I believe that it was a strategic mistake on the part of the enemy to have attacked our people. I believe that they are beginning to isolate themselves from the Iraqi people, and we've seen an increase in the human intelligence that's come in to help us out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Do you accept that assessment, that the guerrillas, the insurgents, whatever we're calling them, are losing out, as opposed to gaining support among rank-and-file Iraqis?

KISSINGER: I can't judge that from here.

The dilemma of a guerrilla war is that the defending forces can succeed 95 percent of the time, and the guerrillas can pull off a few spectaculars and thereby create the impression that they're more powerful than they really are.

But guerrillas can be worn down, and above all, if the intelligence collection has improved, and as we gain the support of the Iraqi people, and as the guerrillas interrupt the reconstruction of Iraq that we are undertaking, their ability to hide in the population should be diminished and will be diminished.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, Lieutenant General retired Jay Garner, who was the first chief U.S. administrator in Iraq -- he only lasted a few weeks, perhaps a few months -- says the U.S., the Bush administration, could have done a much better job preparing for the postwar environment.

In an interview with the BBC earlier this week, he said this: "If we did it over again, we probably would have put more dismounted infantry men in Baghdad and maybe more troops there. On my part, I would certainly have done a better job on having communications with the Iraqi people."

Did the administration simply blow it, as far as a postwar strategy is concerned?

COHEN: Well, I think it's easy to go back and say there were a number of miscalculations that were made, in terms of the speed of the war and moving to Baghdad and not being able to move troops and supplies through to Turkey and other miscalculations -- whether or not we would have the support of the Iraqi people, whether we should have dismissed the army as we did.

But that's in the past. What we have to do now is say, "OK, whatever has happened in the past, we can debate that, and the political figures will debate it, historians will debate it. Right now, we are in the middle of a war and we have to win it, and we have to take whatever action is necessary to win that war."

So I don't want to spend a lot of time going back over what should have been done, but rather, what do we do from this point on.

BLITZER: Secretary Kissinger, a lot of people, a lot of Democrats -- including General Clark, Hillary Clinton -- say internationalize the process right now. Send it back to the U.N., let the U.S. get out of the leadership role it has. Is that smart?

KISSINGER: That's not possible. That's a definition of abdication. If we withdraw from Iraq, the Middle East moderates will all be destroyed. The people who are now running the guerrilla war in Iraq will pursue us and others into any area where there are large Muslim populations.

Yes, we should bring in other countries. But we cannot use them as a substitute for our own effort. And as we succeed, more and more countries will be willing to support us. But we cannot substitute other countries for our own effort.

BLITZER: Let me let Secretary Cohen weigh in.

Internationalizing the situation, a good idea?

COHEN: It's a good idea to the extent that we can achieve it. But, frankly, other countries are going to be reluctant to join in that effort unless they see that we are going to be successful and that we're going to show strength and perseverance.

And the moment they think that we're looking at next year's election to start winnowing down our forces, I think they're going to hesitate and back away.

I just returned from Japan, where this is a major issue for discussion. There are other countries, also, looking at whether they'll contribute troops, and when.

They have to understand that we are there for the long haul, that we cannot seek any kind of easy way out, a quick way out. The old notion of make haste slowly should not become one of simply make haste, in the way of an exit.

We have to stay there and convey the message to our allies, as well as to the Iraqi people: This is something we started, we're going to have to stay with it, and we're committed to doing that.

BLITZER: But do you have any doubt, Secretary Cohen, that the administration is not committed to getting it done?

COHEN: I think the president made a very strong statement, but what we have to have is a consensus here at home, and that's why I think it was important for the president to go to visit with the troops. It's equally important that we continue to build that consensus here at home.

I know that, for example, my wife went to Walter Reed just this -- on the eve of Thanksgiving, to meet with those who have lost their limbs, legs lost, arms lost, eyes lost, to build support.

And what she found there was, morale is high; they understand that they were committed to a long-term mission. And we have to continue to reinforce that, so that the American people, going into an election, don't see us as faltering and thereby undercut that mission.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, thanks very much for joining us.

Secretary Kissinger, as usual, thanks to you as well. Appreciate it very much.

Coming up next, we'll have a quick check of the hour's top stories.

Also, we'll show you live pictures -- in fact, show you these live pictures coming to us now from Spain, outside of Spain, a Spanish air base -- outside of Madrid, that is. The Spanish intelligence agents, seven of them, killed in an Iraqi ambush are being returned right now. You're looking at live pictures from Terrajon (ph), the Spanish air base outside of Madrid -- caskets arriving. Full military honors in Madrid, as these Spaniards return home from Iraq.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: The president's covert Thanksgiving day operation surprised the troops and the Democratic presidential candidates. Will military maneuvers like this make Bush unbeatable on Election Day?

Joining us now to discuss the race for the white house, two guests here in Washington, the political analyst Stuart Rothenberg -- he's the editor of The Rothenberg Political Report and a columnist for Roll Call. That's a newspaper on Capitol Hill. And in our New York bureau, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

If we take a look at the political calendar -- Stu, I'll begin with you -- January 19th, the Iowa caucuses, January 27th, the New Hampshire primary, then February 3rd, a bunch of elections, perhaps the most important in South Carolina, but several other states having a primary and caucuses -- what does that schedule suggest to you? Who is in the driver's seat?

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": I don't think there's any question to that, Wolf. Howard Dean is the front-runner of the Democratic race, both in terms of funds raised, organization, the calendar. Overall, he's got the momentum and he's got the message.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "L.A. TIMES": Yes, I think Dean does have an advantage. In part, Wolf, as you know, because of his success at fund raising, he's been able to pull out of the public financing system.

Now, he said he is doing that to compete with George Bush if he is the nominee in the period from, say, March till July, the Democratic convention. But what it's also allowing him to do is break the state-by-state spending limits that are imposed on candidates who accept the public financing.

So, right now you're seeing Howard Dean outspending the other Democrats, particularly Dick Gephardt, his principal rival in Iowa. It's a major tactical advantage.

He is probably the one with the most assets across the board right now.

BLITZER: All right, well, let's go to Iowa first. In less than two months, January 19th, the Iowa caucuses. In one of the more recent polls that we got from WHO-TV, it showed between November 18th and 20th, Howard Dean with 32 percent. Dick Gephardt, a must-win for him by all accounts, the congressman from Missouri with 22 percent. But John Kerry, look at this, 19 percent, doing rather well in Iowa, as well.

Is this make or break for Dick Gephardt in Iowa, given the fact, Stuart, that in 1988 he won the Iowa caucuses? Didn't help him much later.

ROTHENBERG: I think there's no question about it, Wolf, and I think it's actually make or break for the entire Democratic field other than Howard Dean. Howard Dean needs to be stopped in Iowa by somebody -- it's probably going to have been to be Dick Gephardt -- or else he'll roll from Iowa to New Hampshire.

Now, I think Ron and I both are somewhat cautious about these caucus poll results, where we view them rather skeptically, but there's no question that Dean is in the top tier in virtually every early state. And that's what makes him such a strong candidate. He doesn't depend on just one state.

Dick Gephardt must win Iowa; John Kerry must win New Hampshire. If Howard Dean starts winning one contest, then another, then another, he's just going to be stoppable.

BLITZER: So how important, Ron, is Iowa?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, Iowa is very important, Wolf, for the reason Stu said. It's also a fascinating microcosm of the race that we could have.

If you look at the polling in Iowa -- and I think both of us are skeptical of that WHO poll -- I think most people would say that Gephardt and Dean are about even now.

But they have very different bases of support. Dean, as the classic kind of reformer insurgent candidate, is doing very well with more upscale, socially liberal voters, most of them with college degrees.

Gephardt is running a kind of a lunch-bucket liberalism campaign in Iowa, focusing on blue-collar voters, going after Dean on the issues of trade and particularly entitlements, attacking him relentlessly over comments he made in the '90s supporting some of the Republican plans to slow the growth in Medicare and, more recently, attacking him over his budget choices in Vermont.

That is the kind of coalition and message that it's going to take to beat Dean. It may not be successful in Iowa or anywhere else. Dean has much more blue collar support than when he began with, now that he has these two big union endorsements from the SEIU and AFSCME. But if there is a line of attack against Dean that makes sense, it's the one that Gephardt is utilizing in Iowa. And if it doesn't work there, I think Stu would agree, it's hard to see where it is going to work.

BLITZER: Stu, if Dean does win in Iowa, he's looking mighty strong right now in New Hampshire, as well. A recent poll from the American Research Group shows him at, what, 38 percent, compared to John Kerry with 17 percent. Everybody else in single digits.

New Hampshire could be a very important boost. If he carries Iowa and then carries New Hampshire, then what?

ROTHENBERG: I think, then, the race is probably pretty close to over. It knocks off what was initially regarded as the top two opponents, Gephardt and Kerry.

And then the question is, can somebody hang on, whether it's John Kerry, because he is no longer accepting public funds and can therefore spend money at his own rate, or somebody like John Edwards.

But it really would make Howard Dean kind of a runaway locomotive, and the question is whether anybody could stop him.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Ron.

If he captures both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire decisively, is it over?

BROWNSTEIN: It's very difficult for anyone else.

But, Wolf, this is a really fascinating process we're watching. Dean started this race as the classic insurgent at 2 percent, with no money, having to spend all of his time in Iowa and New Hampshire. And he's built this, as Stu said, I think, a locomotive. I mean, enormous fund-raising, touched a chord with many Democratic voters, those most hostile to Bush, those opposed to the war.

And yet, while all this is going on, and even while there's institutional support from the SEIU and AFSCME, and all the money is flowing toward him, there are still a lot of Democratic office holders who worry about his ability to effectively contest Bush in the nomination. And they have -- you've got to think, at some point, they're going to find some way to express that.

Now, whether any one candidate can consolidate those doubts about Dean, which still exist, at a point where it still gives him a chance to beat him, that's a big question.

But this kind of an odd situation, where he's accumulating all of this strength, and yet the doubt in the party establishment really hasn't gone away entirely.

BLITZER: A lot of the other candidate, though, are looking to February 3rd, Stu. South Carolina's having the primary there. There are primaries and caucuses in Delaware, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Dakota.

I'm talking specifically about John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, Wesley Clark. They're looking to South Carolina, in particular. Is that a hope for them?

ROTHENBERG: Well, this goes directly to Ron's point. An element of the Democratic establishment believes that sooner or later, there's got to be an alternative to Howard Dean, that he can't win in November, so the other Democrats are trying to hang on to become that alternative.

BLITZER: What do you think, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, yes, I do. But, you know, if you recall way back, and Stu does, 1988, Al Gore had a similar strategy of downplaying -- when he ran the first time -- downplaying the first two contests and then trying to win in the South and create national viability that way.

The problem is, even if somebody does break through on February 3rd, if John Edwards wins South Carolina or Wesley Clark wins Oklahoma or whatever, they've got to then turn around and very quickly show that they're viable in the north.

The next big contest, Michigan and Wisconsin. And in both of those states, these labor endorsements that Howard Dean won a few weeks ago are going to give him a big leg up.

So the challenge is going to be, even if someone can break through on the 3rd, can they maintain that momentum on those next big Midwestern contests in the middle of the month? If not, I think the race could effectively be over after Michigan and Wisconsin.

BLITZER: All right. Gentlemen, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

More political analysis and your phone calls for Ron Brownstein and Stu Rothenberg.

Your comments about the commander in chief, we're standing by for that.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're continuing our conversation on the political news, campaign 2004, with our two political analysts, Ron Brownstein and Stuart Rothenberg.

Stu, let's take a look where George Herbert Walker Bush was in 1991 at this time, November 1991, where Bill Clinton was at this point, and where George W. Bush is right now. Look at this. They're all about the same point, in terms of job approval according to the Wall Street Journal poll, 51 percent, 49, 51 percent, all within the margin of error.

What does that say to you about the prospects for the current President Bush getting reelected?

ROTHENBERG: It tells me, Wolf, that it's far too early to call this race. Any handicapper that would do that would be getting way too far out on a limb.

Look, lots of events can happen. We don't know what's going to happen with the economy, with Iraq. This is an event-driven election. I think we just have to wait and see what circumstances develop.

BLITZER: Is the trip that the president made, Ron, to Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day going to have legs, political legs, if you will, going to give him a boost? I assume in the short term his job- approval numbers are going to go up this week when we get some fresh polls.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I do think that it will have a long-term effect on the way people view him personally. I'm not so sure it will have as much effect on the way they view the war effort and how that's going.

I mean, look, I think the way Americans assess the war effort in Iraq, which, as you know, has been going increasingly sour, the sort of public reception of it, will be affected mostly by events, the kind of news that you've been reporting over the weekend. It will take an improvement in the security situation to improve the public opinion situation at home.

On the other hand, I do think this does really underscore what the people who like about Bush like about him, his resolve, his tenacity. I mean, it's very difficult to imagine a more dramatic or emphatic statement he could have made for his support of this policy, his commitment to this cause, than personally going into the middle of the war zone at a time when many presidents might have been looking for a way to downplay their involvement in a situation that hasn't been going all that well lately.

So I think it is those personal traits that were on display here that will serve him best.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen, at least in recent time, Stu, an American public so clearly divided, as far as their attitudes toward President Bush, or concern, as Time magazine had on its cover, they either love him or hate him. And the hate -- there's a lot of people who really hate him as well.

ROTHENBERG: I don't think there's any doubt about that, Wolf. We all thought that President Bill Clinton was a very polarizing force, we would never see another president like that. And right away we see another president like that.

I mean, there's a good side -- an up side and a down side for the president. On the one hand, it makes it difficult for him to broaden his support, to increase his poll numbers. On the other hand, there's a floor there that he can count on and an intensity of emotion that he can count on that I think will probably serve him well next year.

BLITZER: There was a new ad, a relatively new ad, the Republican Party put out, Ron Brownstein. Let's run a quick little excerpt from that ad.


BUSH: The war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power. Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?


BLITZER: What about that ad? Is that something that's going to resonate with the population out there?

BROWNSTEIN: I think so. I think, you know, when we polled -- the L.A. Times did a national poll a couple of weeks ago, and we found that less than half the public had a positive rating of Bush's handling of the economy; less than half the voters had a positive rating of his handling of the war in Iraq; but you still had a very strong majority who said he was doing a good job in the war on terror more broadly.

And I do think that is his (UNINTELLIGIBLE) card in this race -- the sense that he was tested as severely as any president in recent memory and he passed that test on the most immediate threat after 9/11.

So I do think this is something the Republicans are going to turn to, especially if you have a Democratic nominee who opposed the war in Iraq. I think they're going to be very aggressive in making the case for this vision of preventive or preemptive defense that the president has offered.

BLITZER: One brief question, quick answer from you, Stu. Howard Dean seems to be the front-runner right now to capture the Democratic nomination. But who do you think the Republicans fear most among the nine Democratic candidates?

ROTHENBERG: Well, I think there are two or three Democrats who would be formidable. You have to wonder about how Wesley Clark would perform in a general election, given his profile. I think someone like John Edwards, a Southerner, would still be an interesting candidate, although he has some weakness in terms of lack of experience on foreign policy, but otherwise a good profile.

BLITZER: What go you think, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: I think the Republicans have very mixed opinions about Dean. I mean, one school says that he is going to alienate swing voters and be easy to beat. The other sees him as sort of a mirror image of Bush, in that he's a candidate who is very attractive to his own base. As Stu said, part of Bush's strength is that consistent 90 percent approval rating among Republicans. So even though he polarizes Democrats, he can count on that base.

Dean, obviously, has touched a chord with a big part of the Democratic base. And you can imagine a Dean-Bush race would be one with a significant turnout. A lot of people will come out to vote for and against these candidates, I would think.

BLITZER: Alright, Ron Brownstein, Stuart Rothenberg, we'll have you back. Politics, the political season only getting started here in the United States.

Just ahead, the results are in on our Web question of the week: Should President Bush have told his parents he was going to Baghdad instead of staying in Crawford, Texas, for the Thanksgiving dinner? We'll reveal the results when we return.

Plus, Bruce Morton's last word.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campaign ads often wouldn't win prizes for truth, especially when they work.


BLITZER: The search for truth in advertising.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after a short break.


BLITZER: Time now to see how you voted on our Web question of the week: Should President Bush have told his parents he wasn't going to be there -- namely, in Crawford, Texas -- for dinner? Instead, he went to Baghdad. Forty-three percent of you say yes, he should have told them; 57 percent of you say no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

Time now for Bruce Morton's last word on truth in advertising.


MORTON (voice-over): Campaign ads often wouldn't win prizes for truth, especially when they work.

The Democrats used this ad against Barry Goldwater in 1964.


GIRL: Eight, nine...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the stakes.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MORTON: Would Goldwater have got the country into a nuclear war? Nobody knew then or now.

Here's one from this year.


BUSH: The war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power.


MORTON: Well, no, that's wrong, misleading. Going into Afghanistan was attacking the terrorists. That's where al Qaeda's training camps were. And I don't know anyone -- and I'll bet you don't either -- who was against that. Remember how many flags we flew?

Americans have criticized the president for invading Iraq, but that's different. He said it was a big threat to the U.S., but the weapons it was supposed to threaten us with never turned up.

Maybe the president got bad information. Maybe he misled the country because he just wanted to get Saddam Hussein. You can have those arguments, but they have nothing to do with opposing attacking terrorists, who, in fact, seem more active now than before the Iraq invasion.

Would the U.S. have done better to concentrate on al Qaeda? That's another legitimate argument we can have.

That's not quite right, either. Some have criticized the president for not working harder to build alliances, but no one suggests the U.S. isn't responsible for its own defense. Nobody I know of has come out for disbanding the army, for instance.

That, now, is something serious to argue about. Some Americans like the idea of invading other countries, striking first. Some don't.

You needn't bother calling Congress, though. It gave the president just about everything he wanted, except maybe that money to set up zip codes in Iraq.

Arguing foreign policy is very common in wartime in American history. Lyndon Johnson took heavy criticism during Vietnam, Harry Truman during Korea, even Franklin Roosevelt during World War II.

But the Republican ad is misleading. In war, someone once said, truth is the first casualty. It dies pretty early in campaign advertising, too.

I'm Bruce Morton.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bruce.

More "LATE EDITION" when we return. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's take a look and see what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines right here in the United States.

Newsweek depicts "Women of the Bible: How their stories speak to us today, and decoding the Da Vinci code."

Time magazine asks this: "Are you at risk for diabetes? What you can do to fight it."

And on the cover of U.S. News and World Report: "The new evangelicals and how their take on Christianity is changing America."

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, November 30th.

Coming up next here on CNN, in the United States, "People in the News." That's followed at 3:00 p.m. Eastern by "In the Money" and at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, "CNN Live Sunday."

Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm here Monday through Friday twice a day, both at noon and 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.


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